Smartphone Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S6: Australian Hands-On

The covers are off! The Samsung Galaxy S6 is here, and we’ve been hands-on from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. So what’s it like? In a word: surprising.

• More: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge: Double-Edged Phone

• More: Samsung Galaxy S6 Live Blog: All The News As It Happened

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Surprising is kind of a mean thing to say, really. Samsung has always made good devices, but the S6 is definitely the best. It’s verging on great.

The Galaxy S6 is powered by an octa-core processor. That’s made up of a quad-core 2.1GHz processor and a quad-core 1.5Ghz processor sandwiched together to produce a stupid amount of power. That’s backed up by 3GB of RAM and a 2550mAh battery to keep it all going.

Other features include a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera — complete with Optical Image Stabilisation — a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the same heart-rate monitor built into the flash unit from the Samsung Galaxy S5, a fingerprint scanner you no longer have to swipe your finger over and Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Of course, with fun new additions come some subtractions that might get a few fans off-side. The S6 has an integrated battery, no back cover and no expandable microSD storage slot. On top of that, Samsung has backed away from USB 3.0 for its data and charging port, and replaced it with the same USB 2.0 port we used to have. We’ll come back to this later.

The first thing you notice about the Galaxy S6 is its incredible design. When Samsung was building the S6, it ran under the internal codename of “Project Zero”. Basically that means Samsung took a step back from everything it had already built and reset itself slightly for the new flagship S phone.

It listened to the complaints from users saying it’s too plasticky, and built the front and back cover out of strong, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 4. On the back cover, Samsung worked out a new way to treat the colour layer under the Gorilla Glass to give it an almost shimmering finish. I hate that word, but it really does shimmer when it catches the light.

It’s never the same colour twice. It comes in black, white and gold. Those three colours are exclusive across the S6 and S6 Edge range, but there’s one especially pretty S6 exclusive colour, which is a beautiful crystal-like blue. It’s shiny and gorgeous and begs to be touched.

The second thing you notice as soon as you do touch it is the weight. It’s just 138 grams in the palm of your hand, and it finally feels like a featherweight piece of premium tech. It’s a slab of shiny future that I can’t get enough of.

You won’t have long to pause on the weight or design once you turn the screen on, however. It’s packing a 5.1-inch Quad-HD Super AMOLED screen. That’s a screen resolution of 2560×1440, with 577 pixels per inch. Holy. Crap. It is beautiful.

The S6 is still running TouchWiz, but as part of Samsung’s new simplification process, it’s much less of a burden than it used to be. TouchWiz used to be a bloated, overbearing UI that got in the way of the perfectly excellent Android experience. Samsung has now stripped most of the S-branded apps off the device to keep it nice and quick, leaving just S-Health on there while making the others optional extras.

The animations and icons have been upgraded, and thanks to the amazing processor, there’s no lag or stutter from the OS. The Exynos octa-core processor also allows for a 64-bit architecture, with faster RAM and memory components also speeding up the whole affair. We’ll know more about its performance when we get one to review.

It’s more than just a surface upgrade, however. Samsung has also been doing some work under the hood to make the S6 an overall better device than the previous S models.

The octacore reportedly sips battery from its 2550mAh cell. So much so that it can charge from empty to 100 per cent in just 80 minutes, while a fast charge of just 10 minutes is enough for it to churn through two hours of video playback or four hours of standby time.

The camera has a swathe of fancy new tech, including face tracking for moving subjects (kids just won’t stand still these days) and infrared white balancing. The lens on the rear-facing camera is an f/1.9 lens, compared to the GS5’s f/2.2.

That widening has gone on at the front, too, with the front-facing camera packing a constant f/1.9 lens compared to the GS5’s f/2.4. The front-facing camera also now supports auto-real time HDR when previously it only worked on the GS5’s rear-facing module.

Samsung has also integrated a double-click shortcut into the home button that launches the camera app from any screen, even from lock. Time to first shot is reportedly just 0.7 seconds.

Of course, simplifying the whole affair means making sacrifices. That means a fully integrated battery and no expandable storage. To soothe your rancour, Samsung is giving its customers 115GB of Microsoft OneDrive storage (not Google Drive anymore) for free for two years. It’s disappointing to see Samsung walk away from one of its unique selling points, but a fully closed unit is what makes the Galaxy S6 so pretty. There was to be no compromise on design this time around.

After years of criticism over less-than-premium, plastic phones and S-branded everything, Samsung is standing at attention. It’s a hungrier company which is more keen than ever to release another smash hit. They had the next big thing with the Note when it was first released, and now it’s looking to rebottle the lightning.

The S6 dazzles like lightning, is as quick as lightning and is almost as powerful with its octacore Exynos guts. It’s an impressive gadget, but whether the public thinks so remains to be seen.

Samsung has confirmed that the S6 will launch in Australia and will be arriving down under shortly. We don’t yet have a firm launch date or price, but we are waiting with bated breath.

Luke Hopewell travelled to Mobile World Congress 2015 as a guest of Samsung.

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